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China’s Shellacking: The Rule Of Law Collides With Strategic Imperative In The South China Sea

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This past Tuesday the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague announced the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines, which brought the suit under the terms of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), and China. The decision of the tribunal was remarkable for the sweeping nature of its rejection of Chinese claims and for its strong support for the legal claims of the Philippines. A more resounding legal defeat for China’s claims and actions in the South China Sea could scarcely be imagined – it was an utter legal route for Beijing.

The Tribunal’s decision was extraordinary not only for its utter rejection of China’s claims, but also for the extensive and detailed explication of the reasons China was in the wrong (and even included a castigation of China for causing “permanent irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem” for its island-building campaign), a sign of just how threadbare the panel considered China’s claims to be, and possibly also a reaction against the aggressive bullying that has long characterized Beijing’s behavior in this area.

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